Coming from a family of all girls, dinner was always the time that we looked forward to the most. It wasn’t because of the food prepared (because our meals were always delicious as my mom cooked really well) but of the conversations that would go around the dinner table. I don’t know if girls are just more talkative than boys, but I felt there was non-stop chatter every meal time. It was where decisions were made, ideas shared, and many memories created.
When I started my family, I also tried to make dinner a special time. Dinner was the only time when my husband was home and the family complete. When my eldest was born, he was very communicative and shared with me battle stories of his Legos and power rangers. When my second son joined the family, he was more willing to share what he had done or seen that day. My little girl has since joined my family but she’s 3 so she doesn’t talk a lot yet. As my boys got older and older, it became harder and harder to reach out to them and have some conversation during dinner. What happened to my little boys who wanted to tell Mama everything that happened to them that day? I know they were still in there, they just needed some proding. Dinner ended up being a monologue with just hearing my voice all the time. I realized that I needed to do something to engage the boys because if i didn’t stay connected to them at this age, by the time they are teenagers they wouldn’t talk and share with me anything.
How was your day today? Fine.
Anything new you learned? No.
Did you have any quizzes? No.
How’d you do in soccer today? Good.
What do you want to eat in school tomorrow for lunch? Anything.
That was how our conversation sounded like in the dinner table over the smacking of lips, grunts of approval, and the “please pass the water”. It was frustrating and even if my husband and I had a dialogue together, thinking the boys would jump in and ask questions, it never happened. Other times my husband and I tried not speaking at all, thinking the silence would drive them crazy and force them to talk, but again the boys were immune and ate dinner in silence. The silence drove me crazy and this was not how I envisioned our dinner times to be.
So I started trying new things just to spark some interaction and sharing during dinner time. I had to be creative and keep in mind that my kids like games and the approach I take would have to also be perceived as a game.
Best – Worst
I don’t know where I picked this up. But it definitely helped encourage interaction and communication. “What was the best thing that happened to you today?” “What was the worst thing that happened to you today?”
It was a game we played and even us parents shared what we liked and didn’t like during the day. It gave me a glimpse of what was happening in their school life, any secrets that they were hiding came out and it also revealed to me some of their insecurities, fears and joys.
When we eat out in a restaurant, I do not allow my children to bring their iPads because again I want this gathering to encourage communication and bonding. Sometimes it would take a long time for our meals to be served and by that time, my kids are restless, bored out of their wits and on the verge of annoying each other that fights will likely errupt. So I made up this game which I called the Alphabet Game. Start with Letter A and we would all take turns saying all the words we could think of starting with the letter A. Then when we can’t think of another word starting with A, we move on to letter B, and so on. Sometimes to make it even more challenging, we do a point system where each letter of the word represents 1 point, so the longer the word, the more points you can get. I was amazed with the vocabulary my children have, using words such as insurgence, intelligence, and intergalactic. This game even encouraged my sons to read more and strengthen their vocabulary in preparation for when we play this game next.
These two dialogue starters have improved our dinner conversations and helped me in building a closer relationship with my sons. I know that memories are also being made because of the fun we have. I’m always on the look out for more interesting and exciting ways to keep the dinner communication going. What do you do to engage your children to contribute to the family conversation?